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The 19th Century Essay

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In the second and third decades of the 19th century, several English publishers and print-sellers created a vigorous market for toy theatres. The toy theatre probably evolved from the practice of publishing for theatregoers souvenirs of productions in the form of sheets printed with the principal actors shown, in the costume of their role, striking dramatic poses. Toy theatres consisted of sets of sheets on which were printed the scenery of a play and its characters in various poses; the figures and scenery would be cut out, pasted on to card, and used, with the abbreviated scripts provided, to create dramatic scenes in miniature.

The toy theatre enjoyed its greatest vogue from about 1815 to 1835, but remained popular into the 1850s. It was taken up by print publishers in almost every European country. Such publishers also continued to produce board games, jigsaws, and other paper puzzles. For girls, clothed dolls, hitherto usually made of wood, were now made in a greater variety of materials. Bodies were generally of stuffed cloth or kid, and were therefore softer, more realistic, and doubtless more appealing to children than their wooden precursors.

Heads and hands could be of composition (in the case of German dolls), wax (in the case of English dolls), or wax over composition. The finest wax dolls were produced in England throughout the 19th century by two Italian immigrant families, the Pierottis and Montanaris. From the 1830s onward heads and limbs were made of ceramic. Almost all dolls represented adults at first. Manufacturers (such as Jumeau or Bru in France, Ki?? mmer & Reinhardt, Armand Marseille, or Simon & Halbig in Germany) produced expensive dolls that are now collectors’ items. Dolls representing children (and known as “bi??

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bi?? s”) became common in the 1870s. Baby dolls were available from the 1850s but came into their own only in the 20th century. For boys, animals and transport toys were popular. Wooden horses and carts of every conceivable type were staple toys into the beginning of the 20th century. However, as transport changed, so did transport toys. The arrival of railways in Europe in the 1830s and 1840s was initially reflected in simple pull-along trains in wood or tin, and later, when tin-plate manufacture had become more sophisticated, in elaborate models self-propelled by clockwork or steam.

Small tin toys of all kinds (today regarded as dangerous for children because of their sharp edges) abounded at the turn of the century. Toys producing interesting optical effects were developed in the 19th century. The kaleidoscope, a tube with an eyehole at one end through which an endlessly varied succession of symmetrical patterns can be seen by rotating a box containing mirrors and pieces of coloured glass or paper at the other end, was invented in 1816. The Victorians were enthusiasts for toys, such as geometrical puzzles, hydraulic toys, and optical toys, that helped children learn the rudiments of science.

Persistence of vision, in which the eye continues to “see” an image after that image has been removed, was exploited in the manufacture of optical toys such as the zoetrope. A zoetrope is essentially a spinnable cylinder with slits cut in its circumference. Into the inside of the cylinder could be placed strips with sequences of images, showing, for example, a horse approaching and jumping over a fence. When the drum was rotated, the images seen in rapid succession through the slits produced the illusion of fluid movement.

There are close links between experiments with the persistence of vision and the development of cinematography. It has been argued by some historians that the fact that more toys became available for children from the late 18th century onward may reflect a more sympathetic attitude to children and a greater emotional warmth in family life in western Europe. These tendencies were fervently developed in the 19th century. At this time Christmas was virtually reinvented as a gift-giving festival for children, and ever since the toy trade has been geared to meeting the demands of the Christmas season.

The 20th Century By the end of the 19th century, the scientific study of child development, both physical and mental, was under way. One result of this was a burst of interest, in the first two decades of the 20th century, in artistic toys-toys whose good design, it was believed, would encourage aesthetic appreciation in children. These toys, usually produced by designers in Germany, Austria, and France, reflected the current vogue for Art Nouveau. New developments in toymaking in the 20th century included the manufacture of soft toys, constructional toys, and wheeled toys.

Commercial production of soft toys, in which the German maker Margarete Steiff was an important pioneer, began around the turn of the century. The teddy bear (named by association with President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt) appeared in 1903, and since the 1980s has had a cult following among collectors. Many other animals, from rabbits and puppies to pandas and lion cubs, have been used as models for soft toys, which gave children a new opportunity to play with toys that yield to hugging and fondling.

After World War II, plastics were increasingly adopted as materials for toys, as for many other things. It was not until Bakelite and, later, vinyls were used for dolls’ bodies that dolls, especially baby dolls, began to look truly realistic. Meccano, consisting of a set of metal pieces of different shapes that could be screwed together in almost any combination, appeared in 1901 and was the first major success in constructional toys. Since then, an enormous variety of toys designed to impart to boys an enthusiasm for engineering have been produced.

The great age of cycles, scooters, and pedal-cars for children was the 1920s and 1930s. Transport toys remained popular. Train sets became smaller and more intricate after electricity superseded clockwork from the 1930s onward. These were followed by miniature road vehicles, aeroplanes, and, eventually, spaceships. Production of small die-cast vehicles, such as those marketed as Dinky toys, boomed after World War II. The German toy industry developed these and many other new lines to augment its traditional range of wooden toys.

However, Germany lost its hold on the international toy market during the conflict of World Wars I and II. Filling the vacuum created by the absence of German imports, other countries, including England, fostered their own toy trade. The American industry, meanwhile, had been developing independently since the late 19th century. During the inter-war years, great developments were made in what was then called “character merchandising”-toys associated with fictional characters (such as Bonzo and Dismal Desmond) known to children from books, from strip cartoons (such as Rupert Bear and Bi??

cassine), or, especially, from the new animated cartoons (such as Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat). Toys like these, now known as “concept toys”, have come to dominate the market, where advertising-led crazes for the latest concept can be financially rewarding for manufacturers. In 1996, the British Toy and Hobby Association listed over 400 “character properties”, which toymakers can use under licence. Today, it is rare for a toy to develop a character of its own that gives it long-term popularity.

The most prominent example is Barbie, the teenage fashion doll created by the American firm Mattel in 1959, followed by Action Man and Sindy Doll. Barbie dolls are now produced with clothes and appearance appropriate for the black and coloured market. Perhaps the biggest change ever seen in the history of toys has been brought about by electronics, which have led to the development of remotely controlled model cars and aeroplanes, and computer science, which has opened up a new market in computer games, which are enjoyed by both children and adults. Learning Toys

Pioneer educational reformers, notably Friedrich Froebel and Maria Montessori, were quick to adopt toys as means of inculcating their value-systems in young children. In the 1930s, developmental psychologists systematically charted the stages of infant development, so that toymakers could devise a repertoire of toys linked to developmental stages. Since the 1950s, “the right toy for the right age” has become standard doctrine, not only for individual designers but also for large toy manufacturers, so that infants are now supplied with stimulating toys.

History and Collecting The first tentative histories of toys came from within the toy trade; for example, the London toyshop owner W. H. Cremer published Toys for the Little Folks in 1873. In 1900, trade and collectors came together at the Exposition Universelle in Paris to present a historical exhibition of toys, which gave rise to several lavish pioneer works by the antiquary H. R. d’Allemagne. Most books on the history of toys ever since have been written from the point of view of collecting.

Toy collecting today, in which the United States is the clear leader generally focuses on such toys as bears and other stuffed animals, model vehicles, automata, dolls and dolls’ houses, and board games. It is fuelled by regular auction sales, and by a variety of collectors’ periodicals. Toy historians of the future, meanwhile, will be indebted to trade magazines that document national toy industries in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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